August 14, 2010

The Downfall of Nick Wynn

"The Day After Eternity," by Lawrence Chandler, is a 1950's novelette published in Fantastic, an aptly named bi-monthly journal featuring a blend of fantasy and science-fiction stories. We join our good friends Diana, Joe, and Nick amidst their journey to a mysterious planet in search of an even more mysterious enemy...

"We armed ourselves with two ice guns and stepped into the air-lock. Sixty seconds later, the shell port opened and the ladder slid to the ground. I walked down ... The air was good, the sun was warm, and there was a cool pleasant breeze. The flora was strange, however; yellow, fat-bladed grass, thick and luxuriant and soft ... 'Looks like Kentucky with the yellow jaundice,' Nick said ...

Then, out on that yellow prairie, it came into being; the thing we both saw at the same instant. A city, bright and sparkling in the sun. It could have been Detroit, or New York, or Atlanta, with their overslung highways and streets, their flying terraces, their tall, slim buildings. But there on the broad avenue a couple hundred yards from us, was something that didn't belong in any city I'd ever seen; an old automobile right out of a museum, with big spoked wheels, brass radiator fittings and an open tonneau.
... There were two people in the car, a man and a woman ...

My mind was spinning. I felt dizzy, as though some great force was pulling at me, trying to force me down. I was filled with a sense of great, unseen power around me.

Nick's reaction was different. He smiled at the strange couple, waved back at the woman, and began running toward the car. I yelled, 'Nick! Nick! Come back here! It's an order! Come back!'

But he didn't seem to hear me. The car was moving slowly away, now, and Nick began to run. He called, 'Wait! Wait!' and the man at the wheel turned and looked back and stopped the car. The woman made a beckoning motion and Nick increased his speed.

I shook off my dizziness and started after him, but at that moment, Diana's voice came through the amplifier in the nose of the rocket. 'Joe! For God's sake, stay where you are! Don't follow him! Come back to the ship!'

At that moment Nick Wynn reached the side of the ancient automobile. The woman held out her hand. Joe took it and put his foot on the big, ugly running board of the car. Then there was a quick, bright explosion that knocked me to the ground. It thundered and reverberated through the air, faded into echoes, and was gone.

I struggled to me feet and looked around like a punch-drunk fighter hunting for his opponent. But there was nothing. No city. No automobile. Only the torn, yellow meadow and Nick Wynn - or the remnants of him that were left.

He had been blown to pieces."